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The 'Elders' arrive in Israel to boost Mideast peace

The respected delegation, headed by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, irked Israel by initially planning to meet Hamas in Gaza. That trip has been delayed.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 25, 2009

Brazil's former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (front right) and Norway's former Prime Minister Gro Brundtland (front left) place a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Tuesday.

Ammar Awad/ Reuters

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Jerusalem

They're older and wiser, and with a few hundred years of (cumulative) experience under their belts, they arrived for a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday in the hope that they might nudge along peace efforts.

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The "Elders," as they are called, are a group of prominent former heads of state, renowned activists, and global business leaders who are trying to use their clout and cachet to affect change. Included in the delegation here are former President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and Britain's Richard Branson, founder of the multinational Virgin Group.

The Elders describe themselves as an "independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity," according to the group's website. But whether they will be able to lure Israelis and Palestinians to move more quickly on Middle East peace than other international interlocutors in Washington, Cairo, or Riyadh remains to be seen.

Mission: Boost peace efforts

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is leading the delegation, said that the Elders had arrived not on behalf of any government, but in order to boost peace efforts, which have failed to truly get off the ground despite the intensive efforts of the Obama administration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in London on Tuesday holding talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and is to meet with US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday amid increasing pressure to meet a compromise deal as envisioned by Mr. Obama: an expected Israeli settlement freeze in exchange for moves towards normalization from the Arab world.

"We are very supportive of current efforts to reopen negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians – and hope very much that this will happen. We also recognize that people have lost hope in the political process. We want to say to people here - peace is possible - and we will support their efforts in any way we can," Cardoso said before a meeting at an Israeli youth center. The group also went to Israel's Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, and met with a controversial rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas movement.

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